Friday, March 11, 2011

Beginners Guide to Project Management
Part 02 Context for Project Management

Objectives

This part 2 of the Beginners Guide to Project Management sets the scenery for Project Management. Projects are set in a wider environment: they are done for a reason and their results last longer than the project itself and so in order to get projects done you have to know where you stand.


Previously on “Beginners guide to Project Management”

Part 01 – What is Project Management
  • Defining a project
  • Defining what isn’t a project
  • What is Project Management
  • Where do projects come from
  • Outcomes and outputs

The project life cycle
On the last post we started with some of the basic concepts about Project Management and we'll continue it on this post. The first thing to do is to broaden our view on Project Management a bit more and check where do projects fit in. Projects run in organizations during a certain time; during that time you can identify the following 4 distinct project phases like shown in the picture above:
  • Starting the project
  • Planning the project
  • Carrying out the work
  • Closing the project

Now things change their impact as the project develops and runs through these stages. And it’s a good idea for you to keep in mind a few of these things that change their impact on the project. Some increase their impact along the project, like the cost of changes. This means that, when you have a choice, you’d rather have changes in the project in its beginning than further along the way for a very simple reason: it's cheaper. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to set some mechanisms to make changes show up as soon as possible.
Others decrease their impacts along the project. Uncertainty is one of them. Projects are about getting something unique done, so you will know much more about that unique result towards the end of the project than in the beginning. As a direct consequence, the same happens for risks – the more you know about your project the less risk there is.

The Product Life Cycle
But this is not all. Projects fit still in a larger context. Weather the project result (its main output) is a product or not, there is always a larger picture where the project is set. In the case where the project result is a product, this larger picture is the product life cycle. But even so, you can look at it using different perspectives. Using an engineering perspective, the product life cycle involves:
  • Conception
  • Design
  • Manufacturing
  • Service
Projects that have a product as its main output are set on the design phase of the product life cycle but you can (and you usually have) projects in every phase of the product life cycle - but their main output is not the product in focus.
If you use a Marketing perspective, the product life cycle involves:
  • Market introduction
  • Growth
  • Maturity
  • Decline
The same is valid in this case: projects that have a product as its main output are set prior to the market introduction of the product.

Projects, Programs and Portfolios
Projects can stand on their own, like writing a book. But in many cases project are part of something bigger directly related to them. Projects can be part of a set of initiatives running towards a common goal. This set of initiatives is called a Program.
Suppose you want to increase mobility in a city. For this single goal you can set several projects such as:
  • Expand the subway network (to residential neighborhoods, the city’s airports, downtown, other transportation hubs, and so on)
  • Build a bridge for trains to cross the city’s river to connect the city’s subway network to the suburb’s network
  • Build parking lots next to the subway stations on the suburbs
You could set one or several projects for each item in this list but they wouldn’t exist independently – they have a common goal and they’re interdependent. And so they should be managed together on a higher level: the program.
Portfolios include projects and programs. The main difference is that the projects and programs included in a portfolio don’t have to be interconnected and don’t have to share a common goal. Prioritization is one of the main purposes of portfolio management and it consists on getting the projects that return the most value done first.

The Project Manager
The final piece of this puzzle, the project context, is you - the project manager. At his organizational level, the Project Manager is the one person responsible and accountable for the project. In order to manage projects successfully, a Project Manager has to have:
  • Some knowledge about the specific area where the project is running (is it an IT project? a Health Care project?)
  • General management proficiency, including the ability to build a business case that will be featured on future articles
  • Project Management knowledge, tools and techniques, such as task lag and slack that will also be featured on future articles
  • Personal skills, where leadership, negotiation and communication are included
Another perspective given by the PMBOK is “addressing the various needs, concerns, and expectations of the stakeholders as the project is planned and carried out”. A stakeholder is an organization or a person that may either (i) influence your project or (ii) be affected by it.

Project success
One of the most important things to have in mind is how to measure your success as a Project Manager. The reason for this is simple: if you want to be a good Project Manager you have to have a critical view on what you do. But there's something that has to come first: how do you know if you're doing a good job? On and on, you’re a successful Project Manager if your main stakeholders are happy with your project and its outputs. However, you will usually hear that a project is a successful one when it’s finished on time, on budget, within the planned quality and with a satisfied customer. This is also true but varying on the project context there will be one side of this equation that will outweigh the others. There are situations in which this gets quite complex to evaluate, you can find some more information on this on this guest post of mine on PMOSIG: “What is a successful project?”. As a rule of thumb, I identify project success with happy stakeholders.

Next steps
Now that we have set some language specifics and explored some of the basic concepts surrounding Project Manager we can get to the juicy parts: you have a project to manage; now what?

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